Posted by: Gerry | October 3, 2007

Woody Writes

Keith Wood wrote an interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph yesterday in which he attempts to get to the root cause of Ireland’s poor performance in the World Cup. He describes his experience in a similar situation – when Ireland were knocked out by Argentina in 1999.

Some interesting thoughts in there. He seems to fault the players for not trying enough to control their own destiny in the competition.

The whys for Ireland’s poor performance are harder to put a finger on and harder to fix. A phrase I was fond of during my time as captain was the need for each player to be “selfish in a team context”. The responsibility for a player’s performance is his own, no one else’s. If he plays to the best of his ability within a team structure, then he has done his job. Too many of the team seemed to be looking around for somebody else to inspire them, to lead them to greater things.

If you need inspiration from a coach or other players to do your job well, then you have no business being at a World Cup. Even if the coach had got it all wrong and the fitness was off the mark, that doesn’t remove a player from his ultimate responsibility to himself.

He goes on to point out that the long-term interests of the national team is sometimes sacrificed for the short-term interests of the provincial teams.

We are often lauded for the great structure we have, built on a thousand years of provincial history. And yet we undermine it with an influx of superannuated antipodeans and nearly men. Some have been fantastic [Jim Williams and Shaun Payne for Munster] but more have not.

We basically have three provincial teams (Leinster, Munster and Ulster – Connacht is more or less a nursery), which means we have three players in each of the technical areas (hooker, props, No 8, scrum-half and outside-half) to choose from. And yet one of those players is Felipe Contepomi, of Leinster and Argentina, one of our tormenters last weekend.

No one doubts that he is great for Leinster, but he is a disaster for Ireland. Paddy Wallace has played very little rugby at No 10 so, if Ronan O’Gara is struggling, we don’t have another option. Not really a healthy state of play.

We need to have a bigger view if we want the provinces to be our bedrock. We cannot afford to have players who play in key positions but do not qualify for Ireland.

I appreciate the irony as I played my entire career for an English club and the argument holds true for English rugby. But we need to think Ireland first, not province first. The process ahead is painful but not as painful as watching Ireland troop off last weekend.

I think he has a good point here, particularly in light of the fact that the provinces are wholly controlled by the IRFU, who pay the players’ wages.

[Hat-tip: An Spailpín Fánach]

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